The 15 Best Things to Do in Provence, France
Provence cues images of perfectly chilled rosé and fragrant lavender fields. But there’s way more to this splendid region in southeastern France than you’ve seen on Instagram. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, as it’s formally known, stretches from the Alps and the Italian border and the Mediterranean Sea and covers countless hilltop villages, national parks, dramatic coastal cliffs, buzzy resorts, olive groves and vineyards.
As you might have guessed (or garnered from social media), summer is the most popular time to visit as the lavender blooms in the Luberon and glittering beaches of Côte d’Azur draw sun-seekers and jetsetters from around the world. Expect to pay a premium, especially if you’re keen to stay in the lap of luxury at one of the ritzy five-star properties such as Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa just outside the town of Gargas or Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes. Trying to stick to a budget? Holiday rentals and mid-range hotels offer more affordable alternatives. While late spring and early fall are more wallet-friendly and less crowded times to visit that still have picture-perfect weather.
Narrowing it down to just 15 fabulous things to do in a region filled with thousands of worthwhile sites, activities and destinations wasn’t easy. If your goal is to pack all the food, wine, culture and history of Provence into an unforgettable trip, def bookmark this list!
1. SIP BIODYNAMIC WINE AT AN ORGANIC WINERY
Wine-making traditions in Provence date back to the Ancient Greeks. There are countless wineries throughout the region famous for rosé. At picturesque estates such as Domaine de la Vallongue and Domaine du Paternel, which put an emphasis on sustainability and organic growing practices, visitors can tour the vineyards and production facilities before sitting down for a delicious tasting of biodynamic wine in an endlessly beautiful setting.
2. Stop and Smell the Lavender
You’ve no doubt glimpsed purple-tinged photos of lavender fields in Provence. But it’s important to note that lavender season isn’t year-round. In fact, it’s quite a short window—late June to early August with peak bloom in mid-July. Travelers lucky enough to visit during this period should high-tail it over to Senanque Abbey just outside Gordes or just drive through Valensole.
3. EXPLORE THE HILLTOP VILLAGES OF THE LUBERON
Set in the hills of the Luberon, Gordes, Roussillon, Lourmarin, Ménerbes and Bonnieux are some of the most picturesque villages in all of Provence. Stroll along the cobblestone lanes, admire the medieval architecture, taste delicious Provençal cuisine, patronize the shops that sell local products like fresh cheese, olive oil and lavender sachets or, if possible, visit on the respective days for the full effect and soak in the enchanting ambiance that feels straight out of a movie.
4. WANDER AROUND AIX-EN-PROVENCE
Aix-en-Provence is an enchanting university city and cultural hub with beautiful old architecture, fantastic shopping, museums and delicious food. It’s perhaps best known as the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Travelers can follow the trail that links his childhood home and studio. Art lovers should carve out some time to visit Musée Granet, Hôtel de Caumont and Pavillon Vendôme, too. Also on the itinerary? Sample traditional Provencal cuisine at the many wonderful restaurants, stroll along the tree-lined Cours Mirabeau and snap pics in front of Place d'Albertas.
5. GO BIRDWATCHING IN THE CAMARGUE NATURE AREA
Flamingos in France? Oui! Parc Naturel Régional De Camargue is one of the best places to observe an abundance of winged wildlife. That’s the reason birdwatchers flock to this vast and scenic area of wetlands south of Arles. Besides flamboyant pink flamingos, keep your eyes peeled for cranes, egrets, herons, sparrows and geese.
6. VISIT CARRIÈRES DES LUMIÈRES
It’s not every day (or really any day) that you get to be wowed by art in a stunningly spectacular and totally unexpected space. Operated by Culturespaces, Carrieres Des Lumieres is a cutting-edge art center that uses state-of-the-art projectors to stream striking images onto the walls of an old limestone cavern just outside the Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Shows also incorporate music for a multi-sensory experience.
7. SHOP AT A TRADITIONAL PROVENÇAL MARKET
After rosé and lavender fields, traditional open-air markets are the thing people most closely associated with Provence. Each town has a “market day” when locals and tourists alike browse the stalls of local products, from seasonal produce and fresh-baked bread to cured meat and cheese to woven baskets and linen dresses.
8. CRAFT PERFUME IN GRASSE
A perfume lover's dream, Grasse is the most important fragrance destination in the world with a sweet-smelling history spanning centuries. Its prized roses and jasmine are signature notes in Chanel No 5. Luxury legends like Dior, Hermès and Louis Vuitton also source ingredients from this small French Riviera town. Prefer a signature scent? Head to one of the perfumeries to customize a fragrance that’s uniquely you.
9. DO AN OLIVE OIL TASTING
If there’s one ingredient that’s synonymous with Provencal cuisine, it’s olive oil. The hills of the Luberon have an abundance of olive groves. Liquid gold is a point of pride for the region. Jason Susinski, director of product at Kensington Tours, recommends stopping by Musée de l'Huile d'Olive for an educational journey through time as you discover old presses, tools and storage methods and, of course, taste some of the best olive oil in the world.
10. VISIT PALAIS DES PAPES
A quick train ride from Paris, Avignon acts as the first stop and gateway to Provence for many travelers. This enchanting city on the Rhône River and seat of the Catholic popes from 1309 to 1377 houses one of the most popular historic sites in all of France. More than 650,000 people visit the UNESCO-listed Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) each year to appreciate the beautiful medieval Gothic buildings and stone ramparts.
11. PEEP ART IN ARLES
Arles is known as the place Vincent van Gogh created some of his most famous works. Fans of the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter won’t want to miss the Quai du Rhone, Place Lamartine and the Foundation Vincent van Gogh Arles. According to Susinski, the city is gaining even more attention as the center of art in Provence thanks in part to the new LUMA Arles, a multi-purpose cultural complex built by architect Frank Gehry with exhibits, event spaces, studios and more.
12. MARVEL AT ROMAN RUINS
France might not be the first place most people would expect to find Roman relics (although, history buffs would certainly say otherwise). Either way, there are a handful of well-preserved ancient sites across Provence. Pont du Gard is one of the most impressive examples of ancient architecture in the entire country. Glanum showcases shockingly intact remains of important religious and civic monuments. While the Roman Theatre of Orange dates back to the 1st century A.D. and hosts a summer opera festival called the Chorégies d'Orange.
13. PARTY IN SAINT-TROPEZ
Saint-Tropez used to be a sleepy fishing village until bombshell Bridget Bardot put it on the map in the 1960s. Today, it’s a glittering resort town with five-star hotels, basically every designer shop you could possibly imagine and a yacht-studded marina. It’s also a hotspot for beach clubs like Le Club 55 and boasts some of the sizzling nightlife venues in Europe. Basically, the party starts during the day and doesn’t end until well after the sun goes down.
14. TAKE A SOAP-MAKING WORKSHOP IN MARSEILLE
Marseille is a bustling port city and trade hub since the Greeks circa 600 B.C. with a longstanding soap-making tradition. “The simple formula of olive or vegetable oil, alkaline ash from sea plants and fresh water from the Mediterranean Sea have made this household product,” explains Susinski. A hands-on workshop to learn how to craft this beloved export under the guidance of a master soap maker is one of those true only-in-Provence activities.
15. PLAN A DAY TRIP TO EZE
Described by many as the most enchanting village in France (though, it’s worth mentioning that a few other spots on this list are certainly in the running, too), Eze—a place that answers the question of whether love at first sight exists—is a stunning hilltop village along the coast that’s defined by its jaw-dropping panoramas, winding lanes, medieval façades, galleries and local shops. Even If you don’t have a full day, it’s worth swinging by for lunch and a glass of rosé with a view.